Corey, who studies with Gabriel Halpern, said, “He was in the first Woodstock movie, but he’s not all –” He adopted Gyan Mudra with both hands, closed his eyes and mimed a spacey expression. “He’s from New York, and he’s – he’s just awesome, you’ll see.”

Well, if Corey practices with someone and he’s coming to TriBalance, I want to see what it’s about. I packed up my Go Bag and headed to Gabriel’s first Beyond the Mat workshop.

“They have lights in here?” I quipped to a classmate as I picked up a block. She laughed and we unrolled our mats. Gabriel walked in and the mood in the room changed – from a hush to a faint buzz. It wasn’t whispering so much as acute attention. Everyone watched him as intently as they could without staring.

So that’s what an international yoga master looks like, I thought. He’s about average height and average frame, with silver hair and a pleasant grin. I had always unconsciously assumed that world-reknown yogis would have a beatific smile rather than a grin, but armed with Corey’s description – and having heard the Dalai Lama giggle at a temple dedication – I was fully prepared to accept a grin. His movements were swift and efficient. You’d walk right past him on the street without thinking twice – unless he talked to you. If he said, “Hit the Walk button before crossing that street,” it would crystallize the experience into stopping with your feet planted right next to each other, focusing your intention on the little red button, pressing it precisely with your index finger, waiting mindfully for the light to change, and gliding across the street with perfect balance and clarity.

Otherwise – he was pretty unassuming.  

“I have a few suggestions for you,” he said to us, and began coaching us into half-lotus with Apan Mudra. He explained to us that he’s known as “the Great Pontificator” and would give us a little “rapid-fire dharma” before leading us in a technique-oriented Iyengar series. His Brooklyn accent always gave me the sense we were grounded in an urban setting, which is remarkably helpful. It’s easy to feel serene in the sunlit countryside or next to a turquoise ocean. Feeling peaceful during rush hour or a hectic workday is another level of grace altogether. 

Gabriel teaches with precision, charisma, and humor. He’d bounce from English-professor words like “pontificator” to wry Brooklynese slang: “I don’t care if you can touch the floor. I been on it; there’s nothin’ there!”

I felt surreal taking a class at Tribalance with bright lights and no heat. I had a moment of trepidation that it wouldn’t be hard enough – which, at TriBalance, invariably leads to me getting my butt kicked. This was no exception. The workshop had a  quieter intensity than Corey’s hot yoga classes. Gabriel said we’d hold the various poses for a minute to a minute and a half. It didn’t feel that long, but that’s probably because we had so much to think about in each pose. He said, “I’m a Yoga teacher, not a posture teacher” – but we received a level of detail about alignment that rivals any course I’ve ever taken (and yes, I’m including existential philosophy in that statement). I always thought that my neck hurt in Triangle because my hair is so heavy. Rather, it hurt because when I looked up, I was starting the rotation from the top down instead of the bottom up.

At the end of class, he led us through a deep relaxation made tremendously effective with relevant metaphors. For instance, foot relaxation came from imagining that you just took off a pair of shoes that pinched you all day.  He ended class, we applauded, and he said that he’d be out in the hall in case anyone had any questions. I chuckled to see him immediately swarmed. I tiptoed past the throng as he answered each yogi with his characteristic focus and warmth.

I drove home in unusual silence, musing over the workshop. After spending a little time with my husband and cats, I marked the next two Gabriel workshops in my calendar, and texted invitations to a few of my yoga buddies. I think we can all use some peace in the concrete jungle, and a gentle reminder that you don’t need to touch the floor to stay grounded.